Council in bank brawl

GLAMORGAN Spring Bay Council has been accused of “inappropriate conduct’’ and making “false statements’’ about the operations of the Bendigo Bank.

The operators behind the Bendigo Bank, which up until earlier this year was based at the Triabunna Council chambers, have taken the extraordinary step of writing to the Local Government Minister to air their concerns.

The East Coast View can reveal the dispute centres on the service agreement between the Bank and Council and public statements made by Council about the cost of operating the branch in the Triabunna Council Chamber.

In the letter to Minister Mark Shelton, the Bank said Council had publicly stated the cost of the banking service was $44,000 a year, but the operators of the Bank, Freycinet Coast Financial Services, disputes this saying it was at most $10,000.

The Bank withdrew its service at GSBC earlier this year after forced cuts to opening hours and other concerns about the way the Council operated.

The Bank continues to operate branches at Swansea and Bicheno.

Asked to respond to the allegations, Mayor Debbie Wisby said “statements made at the Council meeting and thereafter were based on qualified advice provided to Council by the General Manager’’.

“The costs to Council quoted in the debate are taken directly from that report of the General Manager, and on that basis Council make its decision,’’ Ms Wisby said.

“The report also stated that the Bank had become ‘increasingly unsustainable over the past 12 months’, and that it was difficult for GSB staff to manage operating the bank agency.’’

The trouble plagued Council has also been put on notice by the State Government to explain why it is not in breach of the Local Government Act.

Council was given until July 3 to assure the Government it can demonstrate compliance and warned of potential sanctions should compliance not be achieved.

The Council has come to the attention of the Minister and Director of Local Government following months of controversy including a report into the way it conducts itself which was scathing.

There have also been allegations of conflict of interest and bullying.

As part of a Statement of Expectation project, two highly respected former local government identities investigated the workings of the council and reported a litany of shortcomings and made urgent recommendations.

The report criticised both elected members and senior staff and criticised Council for:

  • Not having a completed Strategic Plan, a Long Term Financial Plan, or a current Asset Management Plan;
  • It found Council was non-compliant with the Local Government Act;
  • Council did not have a Risk Management system, plan or process in place which as a result left the Council and general manager extremely vulnerable to litigation and damage claims; and
  • Council had no Key Performance Indicators established for the general manager, making it difficult to hold him accountable.

Since the beginning of the year the General Manager has resigned just months into his contract and the acting General Manager quit after three weeks in the role.

Mr Shelton said he recognised the Council “has been working hard to improve its approach to governance and has developed and adopted a Statement of Expectations reflecting the obligations on councillors to undertake their roles in accordance with the Act.’’

Ms Wisby said “Council has no issue with the Performance Improvement Direction’’ and would reply to the Government within the 14 day timeframe.

Asked if she was concerned the Ministerial intervention was a step towards the Government sacking the Council and installing an administrator, Ms Wisby said no.

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